In the span of a year, beginning on April 1st 2013, a total of 8,126 new wage and hour suits were filed in federal courts - marking an increase of 4.7 percent over last year’s total. The number of wage and hour suits has been on the rise since 2008, a likely product of  workers’ rising awareness of their status and rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).

A recent class action filed by more than 5,000 current and former hospital employees, for example, should give employers pause. The employees in Corcione v. Methodist Hospital et al. sued a chain of Houston-based hospitals claiming that they are owed back pay for their meal breaks. The employees claim that their breaks should be considered compensable as time worked because their employer continually interrupted their meal breaks and required the employees to be extremely responsive to any patient request received on their cell phones. This claim spans years of employment and could end with the hospitals owing a large sum of back pay to the affected employees.

Similar cases have been brought against Walmart and Costco. In these cases, employees, relying on California law, claim to be owed compensation for time spent working overtime or during their meal breaks. These cases will hinge on whether, under the FLSA, the time the employees claimed to not have been paid for consisted of activities that are integral to the employees’ principal activity.

With a likely continued increase in wage and hour claims, employers need to be conscious of when an employee’s time is compensable and when it is not. At Kelley Drye, we have experience handling wage and hour claims. We can counsel employers in best practices in order to avoid these sorts of claims, as well as assist an employer through any litigation that might arise.